by Mardie Caldwell, C. O. A. P.
Michael is a sweet child of eight now. He was adopted at birth after his biological mother, an African American college student named Shantell, discovered that one poor decision could change a life forever. She was 22 years old at the time, and was doing well in school. At the last minute, she decided to attend a frat party.
Up until this point, Shantell was a focused and devoted student who attended church and belonged to a Christian college group. As a rule, she didn’t go to parties much, and she especially did not attend frat parties. But on one particular evening, she decided to go.
That evening ended with horrific consequences. She was slipped a date rape drug that when mixed with alcohol caused her to pass out and have no memory of the evening. She was sexually abused and found out later, to her horror, that not only was she pregnant, but she had contracted Syphilis from the encounter as well.
Shantell decided to continue the pregnancy in spite of the shock and embarrassment. After counseling with her pastor and a local support group she decided that the knowledge of the child being conceived in a rape, her age and background, including the fact that she was still in school, would prevent her from providing the kind of life she felt a child deserved. She felt abortion was wrong and adoption might be something she could live with.
Through her trials, Shantell kept her family unaware of the circumstances surrounding the conception. She had been brought up in a Christian home and her mother had raised eight children alone and didn’t understand how she could do this. On more than one occasion, Shantell had to bite her lip from blurting out what had really happened.
Shantell’s pastor gave her a brochure about adoption. She called our center, Lifetime Adoption, late one Sunday evening. She began by requesting information. She was scared and unsure. She had a lot of questions, so we sent her an informational packet. She chose the families she felt most drawn to, and after speaking with them over the phone, she selected Noel and Hal, a Caucasian couple in their early 40’s. At first, she questioned why a Caucasian couple would want to adopt an African American baby. In their “Dear Birth Mother” letter they expressed their desire to provide a loving Christian home and a promise to continue exposure to the child’s culture throughout his/her life. They said how active their lives were but that it was just not complete without a child to love and share it with. This was the kind of family she was looking for.
Noel & Hal attended the same denomination she did and had a peace about them she could sense from their photos. She wanted to hear how they were going to share with this child his African American heritage. She wanted to know if they had friends that were African American and about the schools the child would attend, good questions for any woman considering adoption outside of her child’s race.
Shantell wanted to be sure that the circumstances around her conception would be kept between the adoption professional, the adoptive parents, her pastor, doctor and herself. She feared the child may feel at fault and she wanted to be sure the adoptive family didn’t have any relatives that would be racist or know about the conception. It was also very important that the child be raised in a Christian home with boundaries.
Shantell decided she would like to speak with Noel and Hal, and that weekend she said a quick prayer for guidance and called the Fresno family. After spending time with both the prospective adoptive mother and father over the phone, she could tell that they were close to each other and there was mutual respect and love for the Lord. The questions were simple and the couple shared a great deal about themselves and what their goals were.
Shantell noticed how interested they were in her as a woman, and in her culture. She discovered they had interracial marriages in their family and a niece that was adopted. Both Noel and Hal were sincere and wanted to be sure she was okay, both physically and mentally. Shantell was impressed. They were the family she wanted to adopt her child, even if they were not African American. Shantell called us at the same time the adoptive mother called us. Two lines ringing, two mothers-to-be with excitement and tears about finding each other.
The match was confirmed and the wait began as the pregnancy progressed into the third trimester. Noel and Hal stayed in contact with Shantell and even sent her a bouquet of flowers for her 23rd birthday. Shantell said she had never received flowers from anyone before and that this made her birthday very special. She was glad she had chosen this couple for her child.
Shantell’s family had a difficult time with her decision. Shantell said, “I have been on my own for a long time and I think it helped that I lived in another state. My mother was very insistent about me coming home so she could raise the baby. She reminded me that she had raised my sister’s children, so why not mine? The pressure to keep him was great. But, I didn’t want my child growing up wondering why he didn’t have a mamma and a daddy and I wanted him to have strong Christian parents to guide him. Consequently, I just didn’t speak to my mother until after the adoption papers were signed. ”
Already, Shantell was beginning to feel that this baby was Noel and Hal’s. She believed God had brought them all together. When Shantell went into labor, she made the call to the adoptive family. With the time difference, it was only three in the morning when they received the call. Shantell wanted the adoptive parents at the hospital and delivery, if at all possible, and promised them she would hold out as long as she could until they could get there.
Surprisingly, Shantell’s labor lasted only three hours, and the adoptive family missed the delivery of their healthy 7-pound, 2-ounce son. Shantell was exhausted, but stayed awake waiting for the adoptive parents to arrive. She wanted to see them when they first met their son. They all agreed on the name Michael, which had a special meaning to all of them.
The meeting was wonderful. The couple was as loving in person as they had been on the phone. Two days later, it was time to say goodbye. Noel and Hal had loved meeting Shantell and both Noel and Shantell cried together as they dressed Michael for his trip home. Photos were taken and the adoptive family presented a silver locket to Shantell with a space for a photo of the baby and a lock of his hair to place next to her heart. Tears again and hugs all around. Words weren’t enough to express the gratitude this family felt toward Shantell. They promised to stay in touch through letters and photo updates.
Shantell accepted a ride home to her apartment from the hospital from the new adoptive parents. She was going to be separated from the sweet baby that had grown in her for nine months. For you see, Shantell had grown to love him, despite his conception. She knew now that there were no mistakes. She could see the love and bonding already going on between the adoptive parents and Michael. It confirmed her decision, but it was still hard.
The family lingered a bit while Hal helped Shantell out of the car. A storm was coming in and a gentle rain began to fall as they said their goodbyes. Shantell watched as their car made a turn at the light and disappeared. She stood there for a moment; her tears mixed with the rain. She later told me, “It was as if God were crying his tears along with me that day. The same tears God had shed for his son so long ago. ” Shantell found comfort in the thought.
Two weeks went by and finally a package arrived. Shantell held her breath as she opened it to find not only photos, but a video too. The letter stated that the three of them finally got home okay after a few delays from the Interstate Compact. They wanted to let Shantell know how happy they were and how they loved her for choosing them as Michael’s parents. He was a good baby, and the video showed Michael’s new grandparents holding and kissing him. They all waved into the camera, saying hello and thanking Shantell for their first grandchild, lots of tears again.
Shantell played the video over and over. She said it was as if a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders and she finally felt as if she could move on. They remember me… she thought. At the bottom of the box was a gift-wrapped package that held a book for Shantell titled, “Dear Birthmother.” They had written a wonderful message inside:
We wanted you to know that Michael is such a good baby. He has the most beautiful hair and the face of an angel. Thank you so much for giving him life and allowing us to be his Mommy and Daddy.
As we sit with Michael, we think of you often. How wonderful and brave you have been, so unselfish and loving. We will always thank God for you and pray he will bless you for the wonderful act of love we hold in our arms. We miss our talks with you, but know that we will honor and respect your wishes for contact through letters and photos only as you felt were best. We want you to know we will always love you and promise to stay in touch through the years. Please let us know if you move and remember, you’ll always be his Birth Mother. Please send us photos and updates on your life as well. God bless you always.
Michael’s parents, chosen by his Birth Mother
Mardie Caldwell is a recognized adoption expert and award-winning author. Through Lifetime Adoption Center, which she founded in 1986, she has helped thousands of families build their families through adoption. To learn more about adoption success, read Caldwell’s books, Adoption: Your Step-by-Step Guide, Adopting Online, and Called to Adoption.